Saddle Fit: Fitting The Rider
A well-fitting saddle will not only fit your horse and be comfortable for you to ride in, it will also put you in the proper riding position. This can make a tremendous difference in your riding technique and ability to accomplish your riding goals. Ever fought with your stirrups to bring your legs under your center of gravity? Or rode “downhill” in a poorly angled seat? Or had your thighs jammed up against the fork? All of these will not only make you cranky, they’ll result in poor riding technique.
Review the signs of poor saddle fit and the impact of saddle defects and horsemanship skill on saddle fit.
Personal preference factors into rider fit quite a bit, but there are several general guidelines you can follow:
Seat size is a popular way to attempt to establish the size of a saddle. Seat size is published on all saddles and measures the distance from the base of the horn to the top middle edge of the cantle. It is expressed in half inch increments and ranges from 12”(youth) to 17”. Most saddle makers do not believe saddles should be made in sizes larger than 17” as it seats the rider too far back and causes discomfort for the horse.
The reality is that seat size is only one factor impacting the size of the saddle. The depth and angle of the seat, the slope and dish of the cantle, and the style and angle of the fork, all combine with the seat size to determine how much room is available in a particular seat. Unfortunately, none of these other factors are standardized or published in a saddle’s measurements. Therefore, it’s necessary to sit in each saddle to determine fit. You’ll find that there are dramatic differences among saddles within a particular seat size.
As a rule of thumb, you should have approximately four inches between the front of your body and the fork. Your seat should rest on the base of the cantle, but not be pressed against the back of the cantle. Some prefer a tighter fit, some looser. In general, it's better to have a saddle a smidge too big than a smidge too small.
Visit our How To section to learn more about how to determine your correct seat size.
- Fenders and Stirrup Leathers
Most riders will find the fenders and stirrup leathers on any given saddle to be of satisfactory length. But riders that are taller or shorter than average may find that they need nonstandard fenders. “Making do” with standard fenders can impair stirrup movement and just look tacky. An overly tall rider can find they need to drop the fender so low that the stirrup leather shows at the bottom. An overly short rider can find that they need to force the fender so high up into the seat jockey that the forward swing will be restricted.
Saddles can range from 20 or less pounds for a synthetic saddle to more than 60 pounds for a heavy roping saddle. While weight isn’t an issue for some riders, it’s a big issue for others. In response, most saddle manufacturers now include lighter weight saddles in their product lines. There are trade-offs, however, to eliminating the weight. For instance, most lighter weight saddles won’t take the wear and tear of a traditional saddle. Make sure you’re aware of the particular trade-offs for the saddle you’re considering.